Fire & Climate
Smoke & Air Quality
Western North American fires have been increasing in magnitude and severity over the last few decades. The complex coupling of fires with the atmospheric energy budget and meteorology creates short-term feedbacks on regional weather altering the amount of pollution to which Americans are exposed. Using a combination of model simulations and observations, this study shows that the severe fires in the summer of 2017 increased atmospheric aerosol concentrations leading to a cooling of the air at the surface, reductions in sensible heat fluxes, and a lowering of the planetary boundary layer height over land. This combination of lower-boundary layer height and increased aerosol pollution from the fires reduces air quality. We estimate that from start of August to end of October 2017, ~400 premature deaths occurred within the western US as a result of short-term exposure to elevated PM2.5 from fire smoke. As North America confronts a warming climate with more fires the short-term climate and pollution impacts of increased fire activity should be assessed within policy aimed to minimize impacts of climate change on society.